Boylston, “Death and the Semiotics of Remembrance”

Boylston, Tom. 2015. “And Unto Dust Thou Shalt Return”: Death and the Semiotics of Remembrance in an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Village. Material Religion 11(3): 281-302.

Abstract: This ethnographic article discusses funerary practice, Orthodox Christian ideas of body and spirit, and the ways in which people make memorials for each other on the Zege Peninsula in northwest Ethiopia. I pay special attention to gravestones because, here as in many other places, physical memorials to the dead become locations where latent uncertainties and conflicts about the relationship between spirit and matter, body and soul, and this world and the next, tend to crystallize. I show that material memorials highlight ambiguities in Orthodox attitudes to human embodiment and challenge priestly monopolies over relations between the living and the dead. Because of material chains of mediation and memorialization, the disaggregating practices of Orthodox funerary ritual can never fully untangle the deceased from their worldly social entanglements.

Winchester, “Converting to Continuity”

Winchester, Daniel.  2015. Converting to Continuity: Temporality and Self in Eastern Orthodox Conversion Narratives.  Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.  Early online publication.

Abstract: Based on interviews with converts to Eastern Orthodox Christianity in the United States, this article documents and analyzes a narrative form in which conversion is described as the progressive discovery of a latent religious self that was part of one’s life all along, or what I term a conversion to continuity. These findings contrast markedly with those of most contemporary conversion research, which emphasize the narration of a dramatic temporal break between converts’ past and present religious selves (epitomized by the evangelical “born-again” genre). I examine how and why temporal continuity was a characteristic feature of these conversion accounts and demonstrate how such narratives helped constitute forms of religious experience and self-identity that differ in important respects from those documented in previous studies. In light of these findings, I argue for a reconceptualization of continuity and discontinuity within processes of religious identity change as an institutionally anchored figure/ground relationship as opposed to an either/or dichotomy. I also highlight promising avenues for future comparative research on the relationships between time, narrative, and subjectivity across religious and secular contexts.

Bakker, “Ritual Sounds, Political Echoes”

Bakker, Sarah Kellogg. 2015. Ritual Sounds, Political Echoes: Vocal agency and the sensory cultures of secularism in the Dutch Syriac diaspora. American Ethnologist 42(3): 431-445.

Abstract: Among Syriac Orthodox Christian migrant communities in the Netherlands, liturgical performance is a site of controversy over where and how to draw a boundary between “religious” and “ethnic” identity. Tensions materialize in discordant singing styles and modes of performance, echoing complex historical encounters with Dutch, Syrian, and Turkish secularisms. These encounters, I argue, have refashioned the liturgical tradition’s role as a central axis of ethnoreligious social life and kin relations across the diaspora. Secular state practices shape a diasporic sensory culture that is met with a distinct form of vocal agency. Syriac Orthodox liturgical experiments show how the voice can transform the sensorial interface between human subjectivity and social intelligibility, in turn transforming how categories of secular modernity—whether ritual, art, ethnicity, or politics—are distinguished and lived.

Forbess, “Paradoxical Paradigms”

Forbess, Alice. 2015. Paradoxical Paradigms: moral reasoning, inspiration, and problems of knowing among Orthodox Christian monastics. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 21(s1):113-128.

Abstract: Whilst anthropological discussions of morality tend to be rooted in Aristotelian ethical theory, this paper highlights an alternative Christian moral reasoning rooted in Neoplatonist/Christian hybrids and visible in contemporary Eastern Orthodox monastic practice. The analytical move proposed here is to focus on the disjunctures between different ethical traditions within Christianity in order to show how they produce diverse forms of moral reasoning that rely on particular uses of exemplarity and exemplification. It is argued that the Aristotelian lens, with its stress on compliance, piety, obedience, and the daily practice of self-perfection, can produce impoverished accounts of ascetic life by excluding the more anarchic and idiosyncratic forms of spiritual training. Christianity has a long tradition of deploying paradox and perplexity to explode facile certainties, thereby carving out a space, at the limits of human knowing, where a divinity conceived as radically alter to the created world can be directly engaged with.

Bandak, “Exemplary series and Christian typology”

Bandak, Andreas. 2015. Exemplary series and Christian typology: modelling on sainthood in Damascus. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 21(s1):47-63.

Abstract: In this paper, I explore the way in which examples are used in sermons among the pious followers of Our Lady of Soufanieh in Damascus, Syria. In the sermons, a particular logic of seriation functions to present specific models and exemplars as prisms of lives to be imitated. The framing of these lives takes place through entextualizations, whereby the life of some is made into texts that others are told to emulate. The process of making life into text and text into life is explored in the production of examples at the weekly Saturday sermons in Soufanieh. While directly related to life as lived, such sermons also stand for a broader class of life as forma vitae, that is, lives to be followed. I thus explore the example as exemplum, a particular moral story used for edification and didactic purposes, one which situates the listener at the centre of the story by integrating the miraculous happenings in Soufanieh with the response of the individual. The sermons thus serve to examine exemplification and the modelling of sainthood in Damascus in the years preceding the current civil war.

Bandak and Boylston, “‘Orthodoxy’ of Orthodoxy’

Bandak, Andreas and Tom Boylston. 2014. The ‘Orthodoxy’ of Orthodoxy: On Moral Imperfection, Correctness, and Deferral in Religious Worlds. Religion and Society: Advances in Research 5:25-46.

Abstract: This article uses ethnographic studies of Orthodox Christianities as a way to investigate the concept of ‘orthodoxy’ as it applies to religious worlds. Orthodoxy, we argue, is to be found neither in opposition to popular religion nor solely in institutional churches, but in a set of encompassing relations among clergy and lay people that amounts to a religious world and a shared tradition. These relations are characterized by correctness and deferral—formal modes of relating to authority that are open-ended and non-definitive and so create room for certain kinds of pluralism, heterodoxy, and dissent within an overarching structure of faith and obedience. Attention to the aesthetics of orthodox practice shows how these relations are conditioned in multi-sensory, often non-linguistic ways. Consideration of the national and territorial aspects of Orthodoxy shows how these religious worlds of faith and deferral are also political worlds.

Keane, “Rotting Bodies”

Keane, Webb. 2014. Rotting Bodies: The Clash of Stances toward Materiality and Its Ethical Affordances. Current Anthropology DOI:10.1086/678290

Abstract: Any community supposedly identified with a “single” kind of Christianity is likely to contain conflicts and divisions due to the different logics and temporalities associated, respectively, with ecclesiastical institutions, popular practices, and scriptural texts. These conflicts may extend even to basic ontological assumptions. This article looks at clashes concerning popular practices surrounding relics and icons in Eastern Orthodoxy. It asks what are the ethical stakes when people insist on the powers of material things even in the face of withering criticism and contempt from inside and outside their church. That criticism, which can have both theological and atheistic bases, often focuses on the allegedly instrumental reasoning and selfish motives of people who expect to receive divine intervention from objects such as relics and icons. I argue that popular practices that focus on the agency of objects may above all be responding to material properties as ethical affordances. These affordances provide ways of treating the world as ethically saturated. In the Eastern Orthodox context, this may be one way for ordinary villagers to take lofty theological claims about the divine nature of humans in concrete terms.

Hann, “The Heart of the Matter”

Hann, Chris.  2014. The Heart of the Matter: Christianity, Materiality, and Modernity.  Current Anthropology.  Early online publication.

Abstract: At the microlevel, this paper focuses on the Roman Catholic cult of the Sacred Heart, noting its spread among Catholic populations in Central Europe whose liturgical tradition is that of Byzantium rather than Rome. At the mesolevel, it places this instance of religious acculturation in the context of long-term economic and political inequalities between East and West. At the macrolevel, implications are outlined for debates concerning civilizational differences and modernity. It is commonly supposed that the latter was initiated when Protestants began a shift toward interior belief based on text, eventually dragging Roman Catholics in their wake, while Eastern Christians have remained largely excluded from both material and ontological progress. The anthropology of Christianity has concentrated on Western-influenced “moderns,” in their many guises, outside the religion’s heartlands. But the take-up of Sacred Heart religiosity among the Greek Catholics of Central Europe suggests that there are no deep ontological barriers within Christianity. Similarly, there are no grounds for dismissing Eastern Christian institutional patterns as premodern; they should be drawn into the comparative framework as a distinctive crystallization of Christian civilization.

Engelhardt, “Singing the Right Way: Orthodox Christians and Secular Enchantment in Estonia”

Engelhardt, Jeffers. 2014. Singing the Right Way: Orthodox Christians and Secular Enchantment in Estonia. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.

Publisher’s description: Singing the Right Way enters the world of Orthodox Christianity in Estonia to explore musical style in worship, cultural identity, and social imagination. Through both ethnographic and historical chapters, author Jeffers Engelhardt reveals how Orthodox Estonians give voice to the religious absolute in secular society. Based on a decade of fieldwork, Singing the Right Way traces the sounds of Orthodoxy in Estonia through the Russian Empire, interwar national independence, the Soviet-era, and post-Soviet integration into the European Union. Approaching Orthodoxy through local understandings of correct practice and correct belief, Engelhardt shows how religious knowledge, national identity, and social transformation illuminate how to “sing the right way” and thereby realize the fullness of Estonians’ Orthodox Christian faith in context of everyday, secular surroundings. Singing the Right Way is an innovative model of how the musical poetics of contemporary religious forms are rooted in both consistent sacred tradition and contingent secular experience. This landmark study is sure to be an essential text for scholars studying the ethnomusicology of religion.

Krawchuk and Bremer (eds), “Eastern Orthodox Encounters”

Krawchuk, Andrii, and Thomas Bremer, eds.  2014.  Eastern Orthodox Encounters of Identity and Otherness: Values, Self-Reflection, Dialogue.  New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

Publisher’s Description: From diverse international and multi-disciplinary perspectives, the contributors to this volume analyze the experiences, challenges and responses of Orthodox churches to the foundational transformations associated with the dissolution of the USSR. Those transformations heightened the urgency of questions about Orthodox identity and relations with the world – states, societies, and the religious and cultural other.

The volume focuses on six distinct concepts: Orthodox identity, perceptions of the ‘other,’ critiques of the West, European values, interreligious progress, and new and uncharted challenges that have arisen with the expansion of Russian Orthodox activity.


Introduction; Andrii Krawchuk
1. Russian Orthodoxy between State and Nation; Jennifer Wasmuth
2. Morality and Patriotism: Continuity and Change in Russian Orthodox Occidentalism since the Soviet Era; Alfons Brüning
3. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church at the Crossroads: Between Nationalism and Pluralism; Daniela Kalkandjieva
4. The Search for a new Church Consciousness in current Russian Orthodox Discourse; Anna Briskina-Müller
5. Between Admiration and Refusal – Roman Catholic Perceptions of Orthodoxy; Thomas Bremer
6. Apostolic Continuity in Contradiction to Liberalism? Fields of Tension between Churches in the East and the West; Dagmar Heller
7. The Image of the Roman-Catholic Church in the Orthodox Press of Romania, 1918-1940; Ciprian Ghișa
8. ‘Oh, East is East, and West is West…:’ The Character of Orthodox – Greek-Catholic Discourse in Ukraine and its Regional Dimensions; Natalia Kochan
9. ‘The Barbarian West’: A Form of Orthodox Christian Anti-Western Critique; Vasilios N. Makrides
10. Anti-western Theology in Greece and Serbia Today; Julia Anna Lis
11. The Russian Orthodox Church on the Values of Modern Society; Regina Elsner
12. Eastern Orthodoxy and the Processes of European Integration; Tina Olteanu and Dorothée de Nève
13. The Russian Orthodox Church’s Interpretation of European Legal Values (1990-2011); Mikhail Zherebyatyev
14. The Russian Orthodox Church in a new Situation in Russia: Challenges and Responses; Olga Kazmina
15. Neopatristic Synthesis and Ecumenism: Toward the ‘Reintegration’ of Christian Tradition; Matthew Baker
16. Justification in the Theological Conversations Between Representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Protestant Churches in Germany; Christoph Mühl
17. Constructing Interreligious Consensus in the Post-Soviet Space: the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations; Andrii Krawchuk
18. Muslim-Orthodox Relations in Russia: Contextual Readings of A Common Word ; Andrii Krawchuk
19. Radical Islam in the Ferghana Valley; Galina M. Yemelianova

20. Uzbek Islamic Extremists in the Civil Wars of Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan: From Radical Islamic Awakening in the Ferghana Valley to Terrorism with Islamic Vocabulary in Waziristan; Michael Fredholm